Many men say they want more muscle, but rarely do we hear women say they want more muscle. For men more muscle is desirable, yet for women more muscle is not as widely accepted. In fact, depending on one’s age, it may appear a ridiculous statement. Aesthetics validate building and maintaining muscle for both genders, but in reality, muscle does much more than one might initially consider.
What Happens When You Don’t Build Muscle
When you start to lose muscle and lay down fat around the belly, it’s the first sign that your metabolism is off-track and your health is taking the slow (or fast) spiral to chronic disease. Storing fat and losing muscle is one of the most significant signs of aging, and worse, belly fat (also known as “visceral fat”) is metabolically active, impairing the ability to maintain testosterone and build muscle, and increasing the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
While this is ominous sounding, muscle actually makes one a better fat burner and more resistant to metabolic problems. The more muscle one has, the better the body balances blood glucose. The improved balance of glucose will result in feeling better and weight maintenance or loss will be easier.
Why You Should Stop Letting Cardiovascular Activities Rule
While most know that lifting weights will burn calories, people may still point out that they could easily burn more calories by jumping on the treadmill for the same amount of time. What they don’t realize is that after they finish with the weights, they continue burning more calories for the next six hours and possibly even longer (some studies suggest it can last up to 18 hours)!
After you finish a hard set, you’re probably breathing rather hard.
This is the key to why lifting weights is a great calorie-burning workout. After finishing an exercise, one enters a phase called “Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption”, or EPOC for short. This is saying that after the exercise you will need to catch your breath. However, EPOC has some amazing qualities. For starters, one burns significantly more calories after the workout has finished than while actually doing it.
Why? Well, for every liter of oxygen the body consumes, it burns about 5 calories. While were lifting weights, you probably didn’t start breathing too hard. In fact, you might even have been holding your breath (though you really shouldn’t)! You are burning calories, but when your body attempts to recover, you are consuming a whole lot more oxygen than you were when you were exercising, and your body is burning calories this whole time.
Better yet, even though you probably did not notice it, your body actually increases its oxygen consumption for hours after you finish a high-intensity exercise, which is why your heartbeat might be faster four hours after you finish exercising than it normally is. This increased oxygen consumption adds up to a whole lot of calories burned, after you finish exercising!
Increases in muscle size not only increases the metabolic processes for a longer time after the workout but there is a direct correlation between muscle mass and basal metabolic rate (BMR). BMR is the amount of energy expended daily by humans and other animals at rest. Of course the more energy expended, the higher our daily calorie burn is. And who doesn’t want this? I like to call this burning energy or calories in our sleep. And this is just one of the nice things that muscle mass does for us.
So to the question of why wouldn’t women want increased muscle mass too? Well why not? It looks good and it helps maintain a higher metabolic rate.
In my practice people often tell me that they hardly eat, yet they cannot lose weight. There is a reason for this, but this is for another post. Just know this, increased muscle mass for both men and women not only makes us feel better, move better, look better, but allows us to continue to eat in abundance all the nutrients that we are designed to take in, and without gaining weight.
Body and Mind
Muscle also makes routine tasks less cumbersome and reduces injuries. Our day-to-day life often involves lifting and moving heavy objects. When the body is equipped to carry these burdens then it is considerably less injury prone. It’s hard to imagine (a young) Arnold Schwarzenegger throwing out his back taking the trash out. However this is a common injury precisely because so many people have not built muscle to support their necessary daily or weekly tasks!
Muscle also provides a golden ticket to an improved sex life. It boosts immunity, and reduces the risk for dementia. In fact, studies at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that building and maintaining muscle improves balance, fall risk, blood sugar levels, sleep, and mental health.
The Hormonal Advantage
Strength training has another big advantage over endurance training athletes. In a recently published clinical trial, athletes who strength-trained over 12 weeks reported the greatest testosterone to cortisol ratio while endurance athletes experienced plummeting testosterone levels. Increased testosterone is key to building more muscle, maintaining anabolism (growth), and enhancing sex drive.
To keep this in perspective, realize I am not suggesting one eliminate cardiovascular workouts. Our heart muscle is central to good health. What I am suggesting is that you would be wise to focus on more strength training as a means to reach your desired weight and body composition rather than cardiovascular workouts. Or in other words if you are pressed for time, and your heart is in good shape, then avoid the temptation to jump on the elliptical, treadmill, bike or other cardiovascular machines, thinking that a good sweat is going to burn more calories. In the long run, and often in the short run, weight training trumps cardiovascular workouts in weight loss/maintenance, body strength, and overall functional living capacity!
An enemy of anabolism in muscle tissue is inflammation and the immune response that happens after your exercise. When you train hard, your body responds by releasing inflammatory compounds. It is your job is to manage and remove those inflammatory signals that switch off your ability to make gains from training. Reducing inflammation is important It controls everything from reflex time to stamina, and strength, and recovery time .
Controlling inflammation is another topic. For now, between posts, just remember that controlling inflammation after working out is important because it controls the muscle repair process that ultimately causes one to gain lean muscle.